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Views from the Center


Here we are, deep in the throes of summer, which hopefully means you have finished your planned holiday books and are in need of another good read or two! But what should you choose? We asked CGD experts to share their recommendations. Check out the list below to find what fits your mood, whether that's a deep dive into migration policy, a surprising look into Machiavelli's life, or a techno-utopian, time-traveling adventure (I know what gets my vote!). 

If you'd like to get more reading recommendations from CGD, you can also sign up for our weekly Friday "What We're Reading" newsletter. 

This Earth of Mankind, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

This Earth of Mankind cover

"A love story set amidst the colonial evils of Dutch-ruled Indonesia. Transcribed from stories the author told his fellow inmates while a political prisoner in the 1970s, and beautifully translated. At once vivid historical fiction and haunting social commentary." – Jonah Busch




The Erast Fandorin novels, by Boris Akunin

The Winter Queen cover

"Fabulously entertaining and fantastical sleuthing set in 19th century Russia. If ideally situated in a hammock or sun-lounger, you may be able to consume one a day." – Paddy Carter




The New Odyssey: The Story of Europe's Refugee Crisis, by Patrick Kingsley

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"This book makes the migration policy crisis comprehensible through the epic journalistic feat of personally accompanying one Syrian man from Egypt all the way to Sweden. If you have policy ideas about how to address the crisis, see if they survive reading Kingsley's deeply engaged account." – Michael Clemens



Empire of Cotton: A Global History, by Sven Beckert

Empire of Cotton cover

"Beckert explores the early stages of globalization and the industrial revolution through the lens of the cultivation, processing, and trade of cotton and cotton textiles. He also focuses on the links to the slave trade in the early days of the cotton trade, and the changing fortunes of India, China, and other developing countries as their roles in the 'cotton empire' shifted over the centuries." – Kimberly Ann Elliott



All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai

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"I'm not normally a fan of sci-fi, so I wasn't expecting to get into this time-travel/alternate-reality book, but I did. In this novel, Tom Barren runs into a time-travel mishap when he leaves his techno-utopian, idealistic 2016 world of flying cars and moving sidewalks behind and changes history so that he ends up stranded in our 2016. Mastai's piece is a thought-provoking, funny, and entertaining novel that's a perfect read for any vacation." – Rebecca Forman


Some Faces in the Crowd: Short Stories, by Budd Schulberg

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"Fictional short stories about people haunted by abrupt failure in the wake of rapid success. The most famous story concerns Lonesome Rhodes, who rises from itinerant Arkansas guitar picker to local media rabble-rouser to TV superstar and political king-maker. Whether you read the book or not, you must see the movie, A Face in the Crowd, directed by the amazingly talented Elia Kazan, which underscores the role of the media in electing our most prominent politicians and invites viewers to draw parallels to the current situation in the United States." – John Hurley

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, by Svetlana Alexievech

Secondhand Time cover

"Alexievech documents ordinary Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union and their experience with revolution, capitalism, and Putin. It reads less like a history book and more like an oral history—unassuming, frank, and raw. It's a fascinating investigation into modern Russia, and it contains all these insightful nuggets on democracy, capitalism, and revolution that are surprisingly relevant for American politics." – Jared Kalow


Be Like the Fox: Machiavelli in His World, by Erica Benner

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"A fascinating account of Machiavelli's life and lifelong struggle to restore Florence as a republic. He emerges as a more complex figure than you might think from reading The Prince—as interested in justice, freedom, and the rule of law as in power. On his deathbed, he is said to have claimed he'd rather be in hell with Plato, Plutarch, and Tacitus than in a heaven that banished them." – Nancy Lee



Podcast: Revisionist History, by Malcolm Gladwell

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"This podcast has a new season right now and started off with an excellent take down of golf and golf courses, which I agree are a waste of a nice park, and hideously elitist." – Rajesh Mirchandani




The Force, by Don Winslow

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"If you liked The Cartel, about Mexican drug lords, then you'll love Winslow's new epic crime thriller about corruption in the NYPD." – Todd Moss




Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah

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"The late-night TV host tells the stories of his childhood in the slums of Johannesburg where, being racially mixed, he belonged to no group. He finds his way through to his teenage years through tenacity, the unwavering support of his mother, and a preternatural sense of the absurdity of societal norms. It is a very funny and touching book. I listened to the book, rather than read it. Noah himself narrates and his theatrical vocal presence was the icing on the cake. Great for a long car trip!" – Mark Plant

In a Dark Wood Wandering: A Novel of the Middle Ages, by Hella S. Haasse

In a Dark Wood Wandering cover

"Haasse tells the remarkable story of Charles d'Orléans, a celebrated medieval French poet and prominent nobleman. Head of a family caught up in bitter dynastic strife at thirteen, English prisoner of war at twenty-one, Charles spends much of his life struggling against forces far beyond his control. And yet, even as his life's joys are snatched from him and his freedom denied for 25 years, the poet finds a way to live his life with dignity and grace. A stunning meditation on nothing less than the meaning of life itself, Haasse's work presents the vibrant, tumultuous world of the later Middle Ages with rare compassion and understanding." – Mallika Snyder 


We hope you enjoy these summer selections! For more reading recommendations from CGD, subscribe to our weekly "What We're Reading" newsletter.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.